INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts, 12-36 in their first three years since moving from Baltimore, traded for Eric Dickerson in the hopes he would carry them to the playoffs.
Carry them he did Sunday, 57 days after being obtained from the Rams, as he ran for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 24-6 victory over Tampa Bay.
That gave the Colts the AFC East title with a 9-6 record, their first playoff berth and first plus-.500 season in a decade. The last time they did that was in 1977, when the team was in Baltimore.
"We knew when we got him he'd help us," Colt owner Robert Irsay said. "We promised the fans a winner, and now we've got a champion."
Miami could tie the Colts with a win over New England tonight, but Indianapolis would still win the title because of a better division record.
Dickerson, who carried 33 times, ran 6 yards for a touchdown just 3:17 into the game and burst 34 yards for another score to give the Colts a 17-3 lead with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
He got help from a defense that never let the Buccaneers inside the 20 and limited them to 38- and 39-yard field goals by Donald Igwebuike. Even playing the second half without Pro Bowl linebacker Duane Bickett, who bruised a knee in the second quarter, they limited Vinny Testaverde to 8 completions in 31 attempts for 163 yards, sacked him 3 times and held Tampa Bay to 232 yards overall.
Dickerson also was assisted by Jack Trudeau, who was filling in for injured Gary Hogeboom. Trudeau completed 17 of 27 for 246 yards, including a 55-yarder to Albert Bentley that set up the first score and a 36-yarder to Matt Bouza just before the final touchdown, Bentley's 2-yard run with 7:54 left.
But it was still primarily the Eric Dickerson show, although Dickerson said he needs to work on his timing with the Colt offense.
"We still have some things to iron out," he said. "Going into the playoffs, everything has to work out. One mistake can kill you."
But the Colts were satisfied.
"There's no question that Eric Dickerson's presence makes us a better football team," Coach Ron Meyer said.
"He would make any team in football a contender," said Tampa Bay Coach Ray Perkins, whose team lost its eighth straight and finished the season at 4-11. "Just his presence out there, and the things he can do makes a team different."